Friday, October 2, 2015

'The Martian' Movie Review

I got an alert on my phone that there was an advanced screening of, 'The Martian' in my city last night. My 8-year-old son and I have watched the trailer more times than I can count and we've counted the days until the release. He's a curious kid. He's the kind that always says, "I have a question", followed by me usually being floored at what comes out of his mouth, which sometimes leaves me to Google secretly to find and answer. I still want him to think Mom knows everything. I debated whether an 8:00 PM showing on a school night was a good idea since the movie start time is usually his bedtime. I needed to spend time with him, just the two of us, so I decided to be a "cool mom", and take him. (He got up great today, talking non-stop about the movie). 

The movie doesn't waste any time in grabbing your attention. Within the first 7 minutes, we are in the thick of it. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, and astronaut, and botanist, who is on the red planet for Ares Mission 3. He and his team are gathering samples to take back to earth when a fierce solar storm hits. Forced to abort their mission and get off the planet, Mark is lost in the storm on the way back to the spacecraft. They're forced to leave him, assuming he is dead. And, we have our plot. 

Mark didn't die in the storm. In fact, this is not a story of a man who is severely injured and just waiting for a ride home. This is the story of a man who has amazing skills and wit, and is determined to not let the harsh environment consume him. He becomes the most bad ass problem solver I've seen on screen in years. He begins a video log, should he die, for whoever may visit the red planet in years to come, which details his extraordinary wits and brilliant scientific rigging to try and survive. 

He has a limited supply of food for a mission that should have lasted far less than the time it will take to rescue him or send supplies, oh, and not to mention he has no way to contact NASA to let them know he is alive. He eventually makes contact with NASA and the brainstorming begins on how to bring him home. 

I won't dive into specifics from this point forward, as I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone past what the trailer shows. The story has its moments of action, but I love how this movie relies on science to propel the storyline. You can go see plenty of non-stop action movies. They're a dime a dozen. This movie is almost a four-year college degree in science. And, I loved that for my son. As he listened to theories and concepts, some of which he couldn't wrap his head around. He was so excited about the theme of the movie, and constantly asked me questions that I couldn't Google as we sat inside the theater. It ignited the part of his brain that has the need to know. We have a list of questions that we will Google together when he gets home from school today. My kid left this movie wanting to know more about Mars and Botany. That was worth the price of admission alone. 

For parents, the question is, do you take your kids to see this movie? From a ratings point of view, it is PG-13. It likely got the rating due to the F-word being said several times as well as a full backside nude shot of Matt Damon (or a body double). I like to think it was Matt Damon himself. Hey, he's not bad to look at, and damn if he hasn't aged well, if at all, since we first saw him in 'Good Will Hunting'. There are a couple of intense scenes full of suspense and also a graphic scene showing Mark taking care of an abdominal injury he sustains in the first few minutes of the movie.  Overall, I think if your child or children are interested in science, space travel, and planets, there's no reason to not take them to see this creative and inspiring movie. Just be sure your kids aren't ones to repeat a few curse words. I think you'll be good to go. 

Matt Damon gives, what I think, is his best performance since, 'Good Will Hunting'. His acting skills are like a fine wine that gets better with age. He nails the role. The supporting cast is perfect. Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA. He perfectly captures the right mix of a man who supports the mission to bring him home with the hesitation of not wanting to have bad press should more people die in doing so. 

If you love disco music, or love to hate disco music, you will enjoy a little running joke in the movie. I'll let you find out how it incorporates in. I'll just say that ABBA's, 'Waterloo', is perfectly placed in a pretty awesome scene. 

The movie is beautifully shot and I highly recommend seeing the 3-D version if you can. You will feel as if you are on Mars along with Mark. The landscape shots are breathtaking. 

The movie left me thinking about the space program and how ironic we have learned just this week that there is evidence of water on Mars. Will we ever see a manned mission to the red planet in our lifetime? My son asked me that last night on the ride home. I told him in his lifetime, I think so. Overall, I think you will leave the movie theater feeling like you actually paid your hard earned money to be entertained from the first to the last second of the movie. For me, it was by far the best film I have seen in years. Go see, 'The Martian', and take your science loving children with you!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

'Straight Outta Compton' Review:

While in New York City this weekend, I took in a showing of 'Straight Outta Compton'. I went in thinking it was a documentary, but quickly realized it was a drama. I wasn't disappointed for long. We were transported back to Compton, California in the late 1980's when five black men changed the music industry with reality, or "gangsta" rap. It also took me back to the time I got my first copy of "Straight Outta Compton" in 1988.

I was clothes shopping with my Mom at a smaller mall in our town. We always stopped by a little music store called Camelot Music. She browsed the Barry Manilow section. I had heard a few N.W.A. songs at a friend's house playing in the background. When I saw the cassette staring me in the face, I figured I would try to convince my mom to buy me a copy. I grabbed the tape and walked over to her. I asked if I could get it. She looked at the front of the cassette and asked me what it was. I fumbled as I told her they were a new R&B group and everyone was listening to them. My mom, a trusting woman, took my word and said, "Yes". As we approached the register, the 16-year-old working reminded my mom that the music had explicit lyrics. She was half listening and nodded. They rang us up and we went home.

I ran straight to my room, put fresh batteries in my walkman, and hit the play button. "You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge ... Straight Outta Compton". Now, picture an 80 pound white girl with hair that stood up about 6" in a poof with bangs, (thank you Aqua Net), chicken legs, jelly shoes, jean shorts, and an Oakley windbreaker on head bobbing and feeling like a bad ass. I rewound that song about 50 times before I had it memorized. Debbie Gibson seemed so childish all of a sudden.

I took my walkman to school, as it had just started that week. During lunch, I passed the walkman around my lunch table, letting my friends hear the hard lyrics flowing through the crappy headset. Their eyes lit up with a mixture of awe and shock. I wore that tape out within a couple of months. I read the reviews and saw the news on TV blasting the album as glorifying violence and some dismissed it as garbage, dumb street kids who were ignorant to reality so they resort to profanity and violence. I often laugh at the hypocrisy of how we can sit in a theater and watch tons of violence play out in front of our eyes, police being shot, drugs being used, women being beaten, and walk away feeling entertained, while N.W.A. was labeled as "The World's Most Dangerous Group" for putting these things into song.  Of course, the ones who labeled it as such were men who wore 3-piece suits and worked in a high rise who had never once been profiled in their life unless it was for a magazine piece on how they were the best music critic in the business.

I'll never forget a few years later, when I had my first convertible with a tape deck. I was listening to "F- the Police" at a red light when a cop pulled up beside me. I immediately turned it down and just stared straight ahead. I glanced over to see him chuckling. Maybe it was my reaction or maybe it was the white girl with her hair pulled into a ponytail in a car daddy bought her blasting the song. I was the last person on earth who would ever have a need to say, "F- the Police". (I love the police. They keep me and my kids safe). Just wanted to put that out there.

I think the 'Straight Outta Compton' album was more of a social commentary of a life most of us can't imagine. When we were kids, most of us weren't stopped by police for walking down the street or standing in a group. These guys were. They were around gangs, they were around drugs, and they stepped away from that and made a name for themselves rapping the harsh truths of life in Compton and every other "hood" in America. I find it funny that the album had its strongest sales in suburbia. 80% of the sales came from people who had no real clue what the lyrics really meant. But it was catchy, and we all felt a little tougher listening to it. We were getting our street smarts from a cassette tape.

The movie itself was amazing. I wish there was more back story into the individual lives of the members of N.W.A, but the movie focused on how they came to be as a unit. And, if you have seen it, you will know what I mean when I say I was totally confused for 15 minutes into the movie about how they had Ice Cube looking like a teenager again. A quick Google search told me that Ice Cube in the movie was portrayed by none other than his own son, who worked for two years, taking acting classes, and who had to audition many times to land the role playing his dad. Ice Cube himself said that if a better "Cube" had come along, they would have went with him. That's how important it was to get this movie right to the members of the group.

N.W.A was served with a letter from the FBI who scolded them for encouraging violence against law enforcement and the group often found it hard to get security for their shows. They quickly had disputes over royalties and leadership of the group. In the movie, we see many familiar faces, Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight, 2Pac, and more. We are reminded of the rap greats that came to be because of N.W.A. In the end, they went their separate ways. Ice Cube became a phenomenal solo artist, movie writer, and actor. Dre became a bajillionaire with Beats, continued rapping, and created his own label which discovered Eminem. We all know that Eazy-E, "The Godfather of Gangster Rap", sadly died of AIDS in 1995.

As a whole, the movie is an intriguing look into how rap music as we know it came to be. I've heard it said that the release of the movie encourages violence against police. I say that's ridiculous. The movie in no way shows any brutality to the police. These songs were out long before the epidemic of police murders that we have today. The story was written well before that. Is it uncomfortable for us because we are reminded of the few bad seeds that wear blue and are depicted very briefly in this movie? Maybe. We bond with the characters, so it is hard for us to see them be profiled when we know they're not doing anything that would warrant nothing more than a nod and a smile from an officer. In Compton and other inner cities in the country, this is every day life. Most of us have no clue what it's like to grow up in gang infested neighborhoods, in poverty, and seen as less than human.

I highly recommend the movie to anyone who grew up listening to the early days of rap. The story is about building something, rising above the stigma and the assumptions, and making an impact in the music world.

There's a sequel being filmed right now, "Dogg Pound 4 Life" which focuses on Death Row Records.

Until then, I'll leave you with two words:

"By Felicia"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Open Letter To Dylann Roof


It may seem kind of silly to write an open letter to you. You are in solitary confinement. You'll never read this. But maybe somebody who has the same warped thinking as you will. Maybe they won't. Maybe this is just a heartbroken South Carolinian getting it out. I didn't know any of the victims of the mass shooting. I don't know their families or friends. I've been to Charleston countless times. I love my home state of South Carolina. I've never seen such love as I have in the couple of weeks since your "mission". Your plan backfired. You wanted to start a race war. You've reminded us that were are one race, the human race. And the outpouring of love and support our state has seen over the last week has been overwhelming. Sometimes, tragedy inspires beauty. And South Carolina has not allowed your mission of hate to divide us. It has united us.

When you walked through the doors of Mother Emmanuel, a predominantly black church, they didn't look at you, an awkward looking white boy, an outsider. They welcomed you inside as one of them, to escape the sometimes cruel world outside those doors, to find hope in a world of hatred and sadness. You said you almost didn't go through with your plan, as they were so nice to you. Instead, you brought the cruel world that they prayed for inside that church. You took advantage of kindness. In a Snapchat taken just before your rampage, we can see the very members you shot, smiling, totally comfortable in your presence, yet unknowingly sitting in the midst of a cold blooded killer. That video is one I could only watch once, as I saw a glimpse of you, sitting amongst them, as they carried on their Bible study with you in their midst, in their eyes, an equal, moments before you coldly took their lives.

In spite of the warm welcome and gracious people who thought they may be helping you along in life, you saw them as less than equal. You took a gun from your backpack and decided to go through with your plan. You shot many rounds, killing nine and injuring others, and forever changing the lives of the many who knew and loved those lost souls. A six-year-old "played dead" to avoid your bullets. Someone asked you to please stop. You didn't. You ran out of bullets. You planned to end your life. When you realized you were one bullet short to do that, you left. You left a trail of death behind you, and you also left a sobering reminder that hate is alive and well.

For the most part, there doesn't seem to be anyone or anything to blame other than yourself. You used the internet to find like minded idiots such as yourself to fuel your hatred. Rumor has it, it all began when a girl you had a crush on chose a black man to date instead of you. There doesn't seem to be the mental illness defense that many other mass murdering cowards use to try and justify their actions of  evil. I am glad you didn't get the chance to kill yourself. I am glad you will sit in a jail cell. A scrawny kid who isn't such a big threat to those around you on the inside as you were to others on the outside. You will sit through a trial. You will hear from the victims families, the injured. You will see graphic photos of the death you caused. You will be held accountable for taking nine beautiful lives who were showing you love and compassion.

The scariest part of it all is that people like you still exist in our world. I hope and pray that my loved ones never happen to be in the right place at the wrong time, yes, I said right place. In the last 3 years, you and James Holmes went into everyday, normal places, and took many lives. He chose a movie theater on opening night of a highly anticipated midnight release. You chose a house of God. Are we safe anywhere anymore? Maybe not.

I'll never forget being in New York City on the subway alone after midnight a few years ago. I missed my stop and ended up in Harlem. When I saw the sign in the station, my heart sank. I had heard nothing but bad things about Harlem and the people who lived there. But, I had no choice but to keep going up the stairs and out. It was dark. There was a convenience store right across from the stop. I could see four black men under the streetlight. I hesitated, but I walked over to them and explained I was lost. One guy laughed, "Yeah, that's an understatement". They all burst out laughing. Then, another gentleman in their group asked where I needed to be. I told them the station I needed to stop at. They gave me directions. And then, wait for it, they walked me to the entrance of the subway station to make sure I stayed safe. I thanked them and they told me to be on high alert since it was late and I was alone. In my gut, I felt terrible for the moment of hesitation I had. I assumed. I was wrong. Beautiful lesson learned for me.

Love will always outweigh the hatred in our world. While I may not move mountains in changing the world, I can make the biggest difference I have the chance to make right here in my own home as I raise my three beautiful children. I have always taught them that race, religion, and color come in many forms and we're all equal. My oldest kids have learned about segregation and the Civil Rights era from me and at school. They both think that time in history was unjust. In their little hearts, they don't see any difference in themselves, their friends who are black, their Japanese friends, or friends with disabilities. People are people. I hope that they will carry that with them their entire lives, passing that down to their own children one day.

In time, we won't remember you. We will remember and honor the lives you took. We will also remember how our state became one under such tragic circumstances. We will tuck our kids in every night and hope they do not turn from the innocent souls they are into one filled with hatred, or ever encounter a soul who is. Will racism ever go away. No. But, those of us who think racism and violence is pointless and full of heartache outnumber people like you. Too bad you didn't have a TV in your cell to see the thousands who gathered on the bridge in Charleston; black, white, red, yellow, immigrants, every ethnicity you could imagine. You would not have only seen that your race war was a failure, you would have seen the tears from all walks of life were the same transparent tears we all cry in times of sadness. United in grief. Determined to not let you "win".

I am so proud of my state. I stood in line to get t-shirts for my family to honor the dead. I stood in line with people from all over the color spectrum. Poor, rich, middle of the road. None of that mattered. We were all there to pay respect to those who died at the hands of a heartless coward. Their deaths are not in vain.

I took my kids to the site of the shooting. We stood in awe of the outpouring of love in the form of letters, cards, pictures, flowers, and the friendly and united conversation. My son, who is eight, asked me quite loudly, "Mom, how do I honor the ones who died?". A young black man overheard him, bent down, put his hand on my son's shoulder, and said, "You already have, little man". The young man had tears in his eyes. He gives me hope for our future and maybe my own son gave him some hope, too.

I asked my kids in front of the church what they hoped would come from this, and what they wanted to see in their future. This is what they agreed on: "Peace. For everyone to get along and love each other". Then, my son said, "Let's take a picture holding up a peace sign". While their dream my never fully be a reality, may they go into this world with that attitude and be a part of the solution.

May we never forget the Charleston nine. May we never forget their last lesson they taught all of us on earth - to love without hesitation. It sadly cost them their life, but we've all heard the phrase, "What would Jesus do?". And they did. They chose love. To open their doors to someone seemingly in need. You took advantage of that. May they rest in peace.

Monday, February 23, 2015

'American Sniper' Snubbed

Chris Kyle

As most moviegoers have done in the last month, I went to see 'American Sniper' in theaters. I knew a little bit about Chris Kyle, but not a lot. I had heard he survived four tours of duty in Iraq only to be gunned down by a fellow veteran here at home. The tragedy of the situation stuck with me, but I had largely forgotten the story.

I am now covering the trial of Eddie Ray Routh for and am well informed now about the horrific details of Chris Kyle's death. This blog is not ALL about the trial, but also about the movie, how it was received, and the outcome of the Oscars. It's a long one, so hang in there!

The movie itself was an emotional roller coaster for me. I felt the suspense of every shot taken by Kyle. I felt Taya's feeling of being a single parent while married, as I too have raised children with a husband who was away (not in war), but being Mom and Dad both is a hard job. I can't imagine her feeling of knowing her husband was in a war zone and every day could be the day she learned something tragic had happened to him.

As with every war movie, you feel the brotherhood that is so strong among those who serve in a war zone. You understand how Chris, in knowing he was good at what he did, felt his place was in Iraq, on a rooftop, guarding those on the ground as they carried out their missions. While home, he failed to "be home". His heart was in Iraq. I suppose it's something those of us who never served will understand.

Bradley Cooper was nothing short of amazing in portraying Chris Kyle. He underwent a physical transformation that included taking in 6000 calories a day, packing on 39 lbs of muscle, working out for five hours a day, and all within three months. Aside from the physical challenges to transform into Chris Kyle, Cooper had to work weekends on the shooting range, perfecting all the technical aspects of being a sniper to make the movie even halfway believable. Cooper was a natural and was quickly knocking out targets from as far as 800 yards away. Cooper immersed himself in the role and didn't leave a stone unturned when it came to perfecting Chris. Chris's wife, Taya, was blown away by Coopers performance, even saying she forgot she was watching an actor play her husband at times.
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle

While we know a few things were added in for drama; Kyle never shot a child, the 'Butcher of Baghdad' was never a top priority for his unit, nor was the sniper depicted in the movie. The sniper did exist, but again, was loosely mentioned in Chris' autobiography, 'American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, which he wrote shortly before his death.

And, don't get me started on the mechanical baby. That baby was the worst fake baby in all of movie history. The day of filming, one baby had a fever and the backup didn't show. They were forced to improvise with this robot baby. But still, I had a good laugh about it during the film.

What really made me sick was the reaction from certain Hollywood personalities who made smart ass comments about snipers in general and quickly backtracked with a, "You misunderstood me" apology the day after the internet backlash flooded their Twitters. I knew very quickly this movie wouldn't be an Oscar hopeful. Don't misunderstand me. I have friends who are celebrities and I don't categorize actors or actresses in general as jerks who love to protest a war. Even I never agreed with the war in Iraq. Ever. But, I fully respected and admired the brave men and women who answered the call to go there on behalf of our awesome country. I grieved for two friends who were killed there and one friend who was injured.

It seems that because Chris Kyle was a sniper, and a damn good one, some saw him as a bad man. A man who loved to kill. A man who chose to keep going back for more. The man with the most confirmed kills in US history was evil to some people who sit behind a computer and write opinions, (hey, just like me), about a man who served our country overseas and here at home. Except, their comments portray him as a "coward", as Michael Moore indicated. That was the first time it occurred to me that this movie likely didn't stand a change during award season. And, it occurred to me that some people have no clue what it must be like to be in a war. They sit in their mansions and live far away from the rooftops and foxholes of Iraq.

Just as a tweeter last night said, one notable actor didn't clap at all when 'American Sniper' was introduced as a Best Picture nominee and many looked at their agents to see if it was okay to clap. The irony of it all is several years ago, in the thick of the fight, a lot of Oscar winners thanked the men and women serving. Now, they're hesitant to clap for a movie about a man who killed in a war where it was kill or be killed. Alas, it won an Oscar for sound. If there was an Oscar for being classy, we all know who wouldn't get it.

Who's not clapping?

After getting out of the service, Kyle found comfort in assisting wounded veterans by taking them out, talking to them, and occasionally taking them to a shooting range. Some would say this is a bad idea. Maybe they're right. We all see how it ended. But to categorize every man or woman with PTSD as a possible murderer is beyond insulting. Those who were helped by Chris say that doing those things made them feel good again. It may have been the one thing they were good at and never thought they'd be able to do again. He touched lives. He found his purpose after the war and beyond his family.

It just so happened that Chris was approached by Eddie Ray Routh's mother in the parking lot of Chris' children's school, where she was an employee. She told of her son, an ex-Marine, and how he had PTSD. She had heard so many good things about Chris helping men like her son. He said, "I will do anything in my power to help your son", and instructed her to leave Eddie's phone number in his kid's backpack. She did. But that day, she left out some VERY important details that proved to be fatal to Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. The fact that her son had been hospitalized multiple times for psychotic episodes and that she was so scared of him that she had all of the guns removed from her home after he threatened to kill the entire family and himself. She left out that he was a habitual drug user, often smoking "wet" marijuana (dipped in formaldehyde). These are all red flags that were never shared with Chris or Chad, making them sitting ducks that day.

Eddie Ray Routh: Then and Now

On that fateful day, Eddie Routh and his uncle smoked what is believed to be "wet" marijuana and drank whiskey. Routh's uncle testified that he heard a loud truck roll up and Eddie went to see who was there. The uncle heard, "Hi, I'm Chris". And they were gone. Testimony has answered a lot of questions for those following the case since the beginning.

Routh says that he was irritated because Kyle and Littlefield didn't talk to him on the long ride to the shooting range. It irritated him they they stopped and got food since Routh told him he wasn't hungry. It made him mad that they bought him a meal anyway. Chris knew something was off. In the truck on the way to the range, Chris texted Chad, "This dude is straight up nuts". Chad responded, "He's behind me. Watch my six". (Watch my six is military talk for "Watch my back"). 

Routh told a psychiatrist that Chris and Chad were assassins and would kill him first so he had to take them out. Routh said he shot Chad Littlefield first, and as Chris went to turn, he shot Chris. Both men had guns on their waist fully loaded. Chris had a revolver that had been emptied just prior to the murders. With backs turned, he shot them both. My theory is one gun in each hand and shooting simultaneously. Chris was shot several times: once in the side of the head (jaw area) which damaged his spinal cord, and several more in the back. Those bullets in the back were fatal. The "instantly" fatal wound was through the shoulder and into the heart, severing the aorta. Chad was not dead after Routh shot Chris, and was "twitching" according to Routh, so he "finished him off" with a shot to the head.

Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield

The state's psychologists accuse Routh of faking schizophrenia and psychosis as a defense. We do know that "wet" marijuana can cause a drug induced psychosis that can last for a long time. And, we do know that doctors doubt that Routh ever suffered from PTSD. His duties in Iraq never took him off of the base. And, when he said he helped scoop rotting bodies into mass graves in Haiti, he was lying. He went off the ship twice... to get his paycheck. He was never in a situation that would produce PTSD, according to multiple doctors, and, from his service records as well.

Jealousy. That's what it could boil down to. Routh felt he didn't get the respect he deserved after his service was over. He never got to do the jobs he wanted to do in the military. He was an armorer. He fixed guns and guarded prisoners. Could it be that the decorated war hero, Chris Kyle, who lived nearby was seen as something he wanted to be? Routh is charged with the two murders. No death penalty is sought. If convicted, it's either due to insanity or just guilty. Insanity means you know what you are doing at the time of the murders. Such as when Routh went to his uncle's and sister's house to show off his new truck (Chris' truck), and telling his sister, "I traded my soul for a truck". Knowing is locking yourself in that truck and not surrendering to police, only to give chase. Knowing is what Routh said to several Texas Rangers that night, "I know what I did was wrong". 

In the end, Routh will never be a free man. Nor should he. In the end, two men were taken from their wives and kids. Two men who just wanted to help. The verdict is near. The pain will never end for the Littlefield's and for those who knew, loved, served with, and were changed by Chris Kyle. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flying The Friendly Skies?

In the last six months, I have traveled a lot. I have spent countless hours in a terminal watching my flight delay time increase minute to minute knowing my connection is shot. I've had flights cancelled ten minutes before boarding.  I've stood in long security lines only to have my boobs frisked, and they didn't even have the decency to buy me a drink first. I've dealt with  grumpy airport staff who give off the vibe that they would rather be having a root canal than check the validity of your driver's license. I've shared the airport with outright rude passengers that make me wonder how people can be so miserable all the time. I guess they get their frustration out IN the airport and I am doing it here. I've had flight attendants who gave me the death stare because I asked for one more creamer for my coffee.

(The all to familiar notification on my phone when traveling)

(The worst thing you can see while waiting in the terminal to board) 

Don't get me wrong, I have had some amazingly fun times on the pressurized metal tubes and have met some really cool people. I sat next to DMX on a flight from Washington, DC to Greenville, SC (my hometown). I had a seatmate who is the drummer for Edwin McCain, (I'm looking at you, Tez). I've had flight attendants who made my trip so much fun with their cheery attitude and wanting to make the flight fun for all. I've had pilots who were intrigued with my Google Glass and were happy to try them on and snap a cool picture for my 6-year-old son. Yes, nice people are all around, too.

(My seat mate, DMX) 
(My favorite seat mate, Tez Sherard, Edwin McCain's drummer)

A good or bad seat mate can make or break your flight. I have had both. The good seat mate is someone you can engage in a fun conversation with and make your flight fly by. I talk a lot but I always read the people I am sitting next to. If they say a quick, "Hello", and quickly put their ear buds in, I pop my Beats on my head and get lost in iTunes. We say, "Goodbye", at landing, and that's that. Some talk your ear off non-stop as you look at your lonely headphones and wonder, would it be incredibly rude to just put them on, close your eyes, and tilt your head back. 

I would have to say that the worst seat mate is the one with no regard for your comfort during your time sitting 4 inches away from them for hours. By this, I mean the people whose breath smell like they ate a whole onion directly prior to boarding. Or, the ones who spent the hour before boarding at the bar downing Jack Daniels. It costs $1.54 to buy some breath mints at the Hudson News that's in every airport across the country. And, don't forget to shower before you fly or at least put some deodorant on. I sat next to a guy who was very nice looking, but smelled as if he had just spent a year in the desert in the middle of summer. I literally had to spray breath spray on my finger and rub it under my nose.  

Moving away from the people you share your travel experiences with and moving on to the airlines themselves. What happened, airline industry? I remember when flying was a pleasure. It was something people looked forward to just as much as the destination they were going to. You got served with a hot meal that you wouldn't eat if  you were on the ground, but in the air, it may as well be a $300 a head meal in a fine dining institute. Don't even act like you didn't get excited when you saw the food cart come rolling down the aisle. Now, you pay $8 for packaged crackers, some trail mix, and a piece of chocolate.

Speaking of money, flying is nothing short of highway robbery. Yes, I know some will say I should drive or take a Greyhound, but those people clearly haven't flown lately. First your fare will be ridiculous and sometimes it makes no sense. For example, I needed to fly to Philadelphia. The choices were Greenville to Philadelphia, $398 & Greenville, SC to NYC via Philadelphia, $220. I thought  I would one-over the airline. I decided to book the Greenville to NYC via Philly and just hop off in Philadelphia. NYC was where I would end up and fly out of, but I needed to go to Philly first. I hopped off the plane and smiled as I knew I had saved over $100. However, the day I was to leave from NYC to come home, I got this message as I checked in:

It said my reservation was, "Out of sync" and I needed to call the airlines. I did so and was floored in the process. Apparently, hopping off your flight is considered abandoning your itinerary. The result? A $200 change fee and the difference in fare, which is astronomical the day of. Well played, US Airways, well played. Lesson learned.

Baggage fees will eat you alive. When I first started traveling to NYC last year, I brought two check-in bags for a 3 day trip each time. Hey, I am a woman. I prepare for the worst. After a few months of almost having to take out a 2nd mortgage on my house, I downsized to one.  $60 each way adds up fast. Now, I am the master of the carry on bag.

An eye opening experience came to me two weeks ago. My 2-year-old came down with a nasty stomach bug on a Tuesday. I added it up and figured I would be full blown sick by that Thursday night and unable to fly to Colorado that Friday. My prediction came true. I called the airline Friday morning explaining that I was vomiting like a fraternity brother and I wanted to do the responsible thing and travel at another time. I didn't think it was fair to be actively vomiting on a booked flight with over 200 people, exposing them all to the incapacitating illness that would likely ruin their vacation. Us Airways informed me that I could cancel, but I would have to pay the $200 change fee to re-book my flight at a later date and any change in fares. I protested in between pukes. I told the agent I would be glad to bring a huge garbage bag to the terminal with me and apologize for exposing everyone to my illness as we boarded. US Air didn't flinch. They were more than ready to infect the entire airplane to collect $200 from me. I decided to not be selfish and fly sick, so I stayed home. I will owe them $200 to re-book in addition to the over $500 in fares I paid for when I was healthy.

Will airlines get any better? I don't think so. The pilots and flight attendants hands are tied. I don't blame them for the conditions on board the aircraft. You get a free drink on all flights and that's about it. The planes are typically nasty for the most part and they're are all pretty much run down. I ripped my new jacket and scratched my arm on this broken armrest which US Air didn't feel responsible for. Thank god I didn't get Teatnus:

I could go on and on about the pitfalls of airports and flying, but that would require a book deal and about 1,000 pages to play with. I guess when it comes down to it, when your wheels touch the ground at your destination, the hassle, and the empty wallet is of little concern. I've had a blast traveling. I've met amazing people, seen fantastic concerts, and made memories that will last me a lifetime.

 (Neil Young at Carnegie Hall - amazing show!)
 (Allie Mills, mom from 'The Wonder Years' at a subway station on Upper West Side) 

 (Cyndi Lauper concert in Englewood, NJ) 

(Nellie Furtado and I after Cyndi Lauper and Friends concert, NYC) 

(P!nk at Barclay's Center, Brooklyn)

(This view may just be worth all the money and hassle)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mariano Rivera's Last Yankee Home Game With Google Glass

Sometimes the stars align and things happen that are nothing short of magic. I was in New York City a few weeks ago and I had the chance to see Mo's last home game as a New York Yankee. I am a huge Yankee fan. I cut my toe the other day and I pretty sure there was a bluish tint to the color of my blood. Ok, maybe not, but you get the point. I have said the entire season that I would give anything to be sitting in that stadium as Mo took the mound one last time. Well, it happened. To explain how I got to that point is another blog in itself, but let's just say that at the very last minute, I had my Yankee tickets in hand, and was on the D train to the Bronx.

 I exited the station and could feel the energy of Yankee Stadium hit me like a train. It was as if we were in the World Series (Not this year, so this was as close as we were going to get). That was the atmosphere. It was electric. We all knew we were coming to say goodbye to the best closer in the history of the game, and future Hall Of Famer. We were watching a man come back from an almost career ending ACL tear. He came back to finish it this year. His way.

A man like Mariano Rivera, to me, is a true role model. He's humble, he's a family man, he's played with integrity, and has been a consistent standout on the field. How many times have you read a bad headline about Mo? Probably none. He loves the game. It shows every time he steps on the field. I could go on and on.

The game was exciting, but we all knew what we were waiting for. The call to the bullpen, one last time, make the call to bring Mo out. The time came. The crowd rose to their feet. The sounds was almost deafening. Then, he emerged.

One last trot to the mound. You could see he was taking it all in. Tens of thousands were on their feet, chanting, "We Want Mo".  I had goosebumps.

You have to wonder what was going through his mind at this moment.

A few warm up pitches

The time came for the last pitch. Mo stood on the mound for a second, the crowd on their feet, a roar filled the air. He gently tossed the ball a few times.

After doing his job and giving the fans one last glimpse of near perfection on the mound at Yankee Stadium, Rivera's last at-home game was over.

I love the above photo. The three Yankees who have been there the longest, Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitt (who also retired), went to the mound to hug their teammate. Pettitt was content to stand aside and let Mo have his well deserved moment.

And a video shot with Google Glass (not the best quality distance wise but gives you a nice idea of the atmosphere).

Meeting on the Mound

Rivera and Jeter hug

 Mo tips his hat to the fans and the players. 

 Mo wiped away tears as he exited the field

 Rivera scoops up dirt from the mound

As a woman, I felt the emotion of the moment, and I don't think that was lost on any man in the stands. I saw grown men wiping away tears. Probably because we know we're screwed now, but still, tears. :)

I am so proud as a Yankees fan to have been there that night. I don't know what Rivera plans to do in retirement, but I know we haven't seen the last of him. I hope he enjoys the time with his beautiful family and knows that he has inspired a lot of young players, new fans, old fans, and has encapsulated what a true baseball player really is. 

Good luck, Mo. We will not only miss your positive force on the roster, but also the feeling knowing when you're on the mound, and it's a close one, that we'll be okay that game. 

(All photos are copyright of Jennifer McKelvey. Please do not use without permission). 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013